Pilots Push Back Against Plan to Close Hartford-Brainard Airport

Busy general aviation hub in Connecticut capital has been redevelopment target for decades.

Hartford-Brainard Airport opened in 1921. [Photo: Al Braden]

A proposal to close Connecticut’s Hartford-Brainard Airport (KHFD) and redevelop the site has sparked a mobilization among pilots who use the airport and businesses that operate there.

The Hartford-Brainard Airport Association, an organization formed last month and incorporated as a nonprofit, wants to keep the airport open and improve it as a way to attract more businesses to the city. 

“This is the big leagues. We’re worried.”

Michael Teiger, board member, Hartford-Brainard Airport Association

Michael Teiger, a pulmonologist, former aviation medical examiner, and board member of the airport association, says the group represents more than 100 pilots, instructors, and employees of businesses located at the airport.

“The more we get the word out about what’s happening, the more supporters come out of the woodwork,” said Teiger, who flies his Piper Saratoga from the airport.

Hartford-Brainard is a busy regional general aviation airport with a control tower, two asphalt runways, and a seasonal turf strip. A number of businesses are based there, including ones that do aircraft maintenance and repair, avionics service, flight instruction, aircraft sales, and car rental. It is also home to the Connecticut Aero Tech School, part of the state’s technical high school system.

City officials have talked about redeveloping the riverfront land for mixed use, including housing, recreation, and retail. Hartford Councilman James Sanchez, who has been a proponent of shuttering the airport, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Teiger said his group believes the city plans to remove the airport and use the land for trash management, essentially as a transfer station. 

“That’s not what they’re saying up front, but it is what we found after digging through the weeds to the bottom of this,” he said.

Hartford-Brainard History

Hartford-Brainard opened in 1921 and was named for Newton C. Brainard, Hartford’s mayor at the time. Located on a 350-acre plot that previously was a cow pasture, the facility was a textbook example of an early airfield. Its expanse of turf allowed aircraft to take off and land into the wind largely regardless of its direction. Formal paved runways would come later.

In 1927, following his famous transatlantic flight, Charles A. Lindbergh kicked off a national victory tour at Brainard, giving the airport a major boost, according to the Connecticut Airport Authority, which oversees the airport today. During World War II, the airport was a United States Army Air Forces training center for pilots and aircrews.

Bradley International Airport (KBDL) opened in 1942 in nearby Windsor Locks and, as it continued to develop after the war, eventually overshadowed Brainard and drew away its commercial passenger traffic. In 1958, the airport lost one of its runways to an industrial park project and ever since has been the subject of numerous closure and redevelopment proposals, the most recent of which is a serious threat, according to Teiger.

“This is the big leagues. We’re worried,” he said.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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